Girl meets boy. Girl becomes engaged to boy. The world is overtaken by a deadly virus.
This is not how I thought my love story would go. But here we are, holed up in our apartment with our dog, our health, and a looming wedding date.
I met my future husband in the housing section of Craigslist in San Francisco seven years ago. I was 22 and looking for any bedroom, a dilapidated studio, a dining room with a curtain ... whatever would have me.
An apartment with a friend (the friend who will be marrying us!) had fallen through at the last minute. Jerrod, my fiancé, was 25 and hurriedly leaving New York City for a job in the Bay Area. I’d made the same move three years earlier, but for school. In a competitive rental market, neither of us could find a bedroom that wasn’t snatched up instantly.
In desperation, he responded to my generic ad for a roommate. His was the only email I replied to.
So I went into the housing wanted section of craigslist to post a frantic housing request and I saw your ad. I am also looking for move-in by 8/1. This is a long shot. I thought I would email you to see if you would be interested in urgently finding a two bedroom?
Something about those words: This is a long shot. The rest of the email is mine to keep, hidden safely from view like a hermit crab tucked in its shell. But it moved me. He linked to his Facebook and LinkedIn profiles so I could be sure he was who he claimed to be. I liked the look of him with his short, dark hair. His near smile. The email made me laugh. None of the others had.
The next night we met for pizza and beer at a place that no longer exists. I was still wearing one of the only blazers I owned for work — gray, soft, cheap — a caricature of a functional adult with a temp job and only impending student loan debt. He ran late because of the train and texted me politely, racing into the restaurant on his skinny legs, dressed almost entirely in black, save for a well worn band T-shirt that lives on in our closet today.
We were both escaping doomed relationships, his infinitely more complicated than mine. But when you’re looking for a roommate, all that really matters is that their at-home values match yours and they have good-enough credit. He checked those boxes. He was originally from Ohio, and his voice went down an octave when he said it, like mine does when I say I’m from Long Island.
It wasn’t love at first sight. It’s more that I felt relieved. He gave me the familiar feeling of coming home after a long time gone. I figured I was just missing New York. We spent a lot of time together over the next week while we searched for our eventual apartment in the Outer Sunset. Instagram tagged the location as The Edge of the Western World. My bedroom was the “bonus room,” with no fewer than three doors on three of the four walls; his was the street-noisy master bedroom.
Things happen. Your roommate is cuter than you’d expected. Your roommate likes the things you like. Your roommate buys you a Transformer for Christmas because you’ve always wanted one. (Megatron has a special place on one of our bookshelves.)
I don’t think either of us believed we could evolve into something more than an attraction, a too-close friendship, simply because ... we were an accident. But what couple isn’t? Some meet in high school. Others meet in college. Maybe you meet at work. At the bookstore. At a concert. At a bar. On an app. Through friends. At a destination wedding. Whatever it is, that plot point we call fate (if we’re romantics) or coincidence (if we’re skeptics), I think something inside me always knew Jerrod was someone I wanted to keep — in any capacity. We decided to be together, an official first date about six months into living together. He dressed up. I had carnitas.
We moved from our two-bedroom at the beach to a one-bedroom on a high hill in San Francisco. After a few years, we moved back to New York together. We adopted our dog, also from the internet (though not from Craigslist). Like other couples, we weathered things, like painful dental procedures (mine), back-to-back flus, family deaths and estrangements, student loans (mine), a money pit of a car (his). Jerrod became a fixture in my life as ordinary-extraordinary as a smoke alarm, and as present. For all our days and nights spent together, I was still myself: a product of an especially difficult divorce, unsettled by comfort. But so was Jerrod.
“When he proposed after dinner on our sixth anniversary, in a hotel suite with a view, an antique ring in a bright box, I didn’t cry; I yelled like my team had won the game. My chest felt electric.”
When he proposed after dinner on our sixth anniversary, in a hotel suite with a view, an antique ring in a bright box, I didn’t cry; I yelled like my team had won the game. My chest felt electric. It seems an odd thing to point out, but you have to understand: I always imagined I would cry, hands to my face, all ugly, wonderful sweetness, like a movie. Right? But my favorite movie is ”Moonstruck,” and when Nic Cage proposes to Cher at the breakfast table, she doesn’t cry either. And now I understand.
Love is the best thing we do. It takes on so many shapes throughout the course of our lives. But for most of us, it takes a long time to build a life worth living, and that’s what I was most focused on all those years. Every single person I spoke to after we got engaged assumed I knew it was coming — that night, on our anniversary. But I didn’t. I knew it was coming at all; we’d talked about it in specific terms, not abstract ones. We didn’t have (don’t have!) much money, but we’re fortunate. We have each other, our dog, some savings, our mutual joys. This is a long shot is what I thought about the whole thing, because let’s be honest: Getting married is expensive in general, and especially if you live where we live and you don’t go to City Hall.
Less than two months later, COVID-19 arrived and New York was declared a state of emergency. My mother (who lives in New York City as well) set to work making mask after mask for us, and for everyone she knows. Jerrod started working from home — indefinitely. Our dog was thrilled to have us here, perpetually, competing with him for space on the couch. We crept closer to the date we’d set aside for a summer wedding shower ... and quietly canceled it. Our tasting was canceled. The only thing we booked, before the pandemic was a known threat, was our venue. I envisioned our 2021 winter wedding as a big cocktail party in a bookstore, with my original Craigslist roommate Jessie flying in from California to marry us in a book-backed nook with tealights.
As we slogged into summer, blessed with only headaches and body aches anyone could call fatigue and anxiety — and not necessarily the virus — I bought a few small, hopeful things: a cake topper, a ring box, and some signs for the party. But I felt it disappearing before me. I couldn’t see a future state with a large group in an enclosed space, even as people told me: January? It’ll all be fine by then. When you get married, you probably want to be able to hug your friends and family without holding your breath.
We’re not planning to have children. (The pandemic didn’t change that ... though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think it helped cement it.) We’re not saving for a house. We’re two people with two incomes, who’ve been able to get through this pandemic largely unscathed. In New York City, no less! The wedding, the party of it, is the one flashy dream I’d had for us as a couple. Because we were roommates first, we never moved in together in the traditional sense. There were milestones that slipped by unseen simply because they weren’t obvious. But not everyone gets to have a wedding, and even fewer get the wedding of their dreams. There are losses far greater, hardships that cut far deeper, than postponing or canceling a party.
So we decided that, whatever happens, we’ll get married on our date this winter. The party can wait. Everything else can wait. The one miracle I see when I look into the mostly terrifying, gloom-and-doom future we’ve all been saddled with is this: we’re getting married to each other. We can have our second start. The wedding is not the marriage. I miss everyone, I do, but if I had to captain a boat with only room for one other person, it would be Jerrod (so long as he agrees to bring the dog). All of life is a long shot, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
Jiordan Castle is the author of the chapbook “All His Breakable Things.” Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, New Ohio Review, Third Point Press, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is a regular contributor to the LA-based quarterly food and culture magazine Compound Butter, and writes and curates the Pigeon Pages series The Long Pause…. She has an MFA in poetry from Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé and their dog.